Bilingual learning can help students
Feb. 7, 2008
What is the best approach to teaching English to young students in our ever more
culturally and linguistically diverse public schools?
To begin, we know that children develop the foundation of their first language,
the language they use at home, between the ages of 5 and 10.
Next, consider that research has shown that children are quite able to learn
more than one language at the same time with no negative consequences.
As a matter of fact, in many places around the globe, bilingualism and
multilingualism have been commonplace for centuries.
Yet bilingual education in the United States has been and continues to be a
What is going on here? What do we need to know about acquiring another language?
There is a principle that researchers agree upon when one attempts to learn
another language. That principle states that one's knowledge of a first language
accelerates the ability to communicate in another language.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the more solid your foundation in Spanish (or
any other foreign language) the easier it is to learn English (or any other
Those children who do not have a firm grasp of their first language, and have no
opportunity to have formal instruction in that first language, too often simply
stumble off the road to learning English.
As a result, they become ashamed of their first language and embarrassed by
their lack of fluency in the second.
Simply requiring a program teaching English as a second language in schools
without a program to continue to teach students their first language - the
child's primary way of communicating with parents, extended families and
community members is a classic mistake.
This is not to say that English as a second language does not have important
role to play in producing a student fluent in English, but it is only part of
English as a second lnguage instruction is necessary, but not sufficient.
A program in which a student's first language is cultivated along with an
English as a sond lnguage component is the surest way to have that student learn
and receive the benefits of the English language.
If helping youngsters learn English in school is an important goal - and it
surely is, we must understand the links between language, culture and cognition.
Again, knowledge of language accelerates acquisition of language, and the result
of a strong bilingual program is a person who can learn and succeed in more than
Should fostering bilingual students be a goal of our schools?
Well, you can't argue in the name of education that speaking, reading and
writing a single language is better than speaking, reading and writing two
languages - not in the name of education.